Klein Curacao – Curacao’s Beautiful Little Sister
If you look at the flag of Curaçao you’ll see a big star and a little star. The big star is Curaçao and the little star is the tiny island of Klein Curacao which simply means Little Curaçao.
A day trip visit to Klein Curacao to walk its beautiful sand beach, swim and snorkel in the aquamarine water, pay a visit to the deserted lighthouse and check out the shipwrecks is a must do for most first time visitors. Unfortunately for me, on my first visit to Curaçao in the spring of 2018 it was simply too windy for the boats that regularly make the trip to get out. I’ve now returned in late September and the weather is exceptional and the winds light. This time I will make it to Klein Curacao and I hope you’ll come along for the trip.
History of Klein Curacao
Klein Curacao now has no permanent residents, but this was not always the case. It has a dark past that belies its current status as beautiful place to visit on a day trip. The Dutch West India Company used Curaçao as the distribution point for slaves that had been brought over from Africa to work the New World plantations. However, before landing in Willemstad, the major city of Curaçao, the boats first stopped at Klein Curacao where the sick, of whom there were always many, were quarantined. Those that died while in quarantine were buried on the island, by the hundreds, maybe thousands. If you want to know more about the brutal slave trade based in Curaçao read my post on the excellent Kura Hulanda Museum in Willemstad.
After the slave trade was ended, the plundering of the island itself began in earnest. Deposits of guano created from droppings of the huge number of seabirds who nested on the island were mined for fertilizer until there was none left, dropping the island’s water level and wiping out the bird colonies. Goats were unleashed on the vegetation, virtually wiping it out and creating a desert wasteland suitable only for lizards and a few other hardy creatures. To top it off, all of the monk seals that once swarmed throughout the Caribbean and in great numbers on Klein Curacao, were killed off. They are now extinct.
Adding to this happy story are dozens of shipwrecks with images of drowned sailors and passengers being washed ashore on the sharp rocks of the west side of the island. If there ever was a place where you might hear the wails and groans of departed souls, it might be Klein Curacao. No wonder everybody leaves before nightfall.
Here is an aerial view of the island and although efforts are being made to restore the vegetation, it’s still mostly very desert like. However, you can also see that the eastern side has sandy beaches and aquamarine waters which is what draws the tourists. You can just make out boats at the northeastern side of Klein Curacao where most people land.
There are a number of companies offering day trips to Klein Curacao, all of which I believe leave from the eastern end of Curaçao as it is the closest to the islet. We chose Blue Finn Charters which is based in Jan Thiel Resort, one of the largest and most popular on Curaçao. They use 75 foot catamarans which have plenty of space to spread out on during the 2½ hours it takes to get to Klein Curacao. The cost is $109 USD and the trip lasts about nine hours in total. The price is all inclusive of food and drinks of which Blue Finn is more than generous.
As the cruise ship line Cunard first advertised, “Getting there is half the fun” and so it is on the way to Klein Curacao. There are few delights on earth more enjoyable than being aboard a small boat in the Caribbean with a warm breeze blowing and the furrow following free.
After several miscalls, mistaking distant sails for the lighthouse on Klein Curacao, it finally comes into sight with the distinctive masculine look of the lighthouse with attendant side buildings. Freud would have a field day with this image.
The catamaran anchors about 100 feet from the beach and we are obliged to don our snorkel sets and swim the rest of the distance to shore. Our gear is brought ashore in a small zodiac that also takes those who prefer not to make the swim. The water is gloriously clear and warm and from the instant we look down through our masks there are fish to see. The bottom is sandy and not a coral reef so the numbers of fish are not immense, but still enough to satisfy me. Once ashore we are greeted with a welcome to Klein Curacao sign that helps us get oriented.
There are absolutely no services on the island so you really are in Robinson Crusoe mode once ashore, but isn’t that what you really came here for? Once our packs arrive we store them in the shade of one of the palapas that Blue Finn has set up and it’s time to go exploring.
To say the beach is nice is like saying Elizabeth Taylor was pretty. It’s incredibly gorgeous! I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
With just under five hours to explore Klein Curacao you’ve got plenty of time to see just about everything there is to see including lots of time for snorkelling. I decided to start by taking a walk to the lighthouse and then checking out the shipwreck.
It’s not a long walk to the lighthouse, but you definitely don’t want to do it in bare feet as the limestone is severely pitted creating some very sharp edges, if you step off the path which you will want to do to get a better angle.
I’ve never met a lighthouse that didn’t demand that you take as many pictures of it as possible and the one on Klein Curacao is no different; in fact it’s one of the most photogenic in the Caribbean. Dating from 1877, it’s 66 feet tall and despite looking totally abandoned it actually has a working LED light on top. Unlike most abandoned lighthouses this one is not boarded up and you can go inside and climb to the top although the stairs are very rickety. This is the approach path from the beach.
This is the view from the backside.
As you can see from these photos there’s not exactly a lot of people around. On the day we were there, there was one other catamaran and a couple of smaller cabin cruisers – maybe 150 people in total on the island and most stayed near the beach. If you like the feeling of exploring on your own Klein Curacao is a great place to do it.
Next it was time to continue on to the other side of the island and check out the shipwrecks.
This side is completely different from the beach on the other with rugged and ragged limestone making the walking more difficult, but definitely worth it. Even on a relatively calm day the sea spray created by the waves crashing into the shore is impressive.
One can only imagine what it would be like in truly nasty weather as the owners of this small sailboat could attest to. I hope they got ashore safely.
However, Klein Curacao is not satisfied with taking out just small boats, but goes after bigger game as well. This is all that’s left of the Maria Bianca Guidesman that foundered in 1982.
Don’t ask me why, but someone went to a great effort to build this circular stone enclosure near the shipwreck.
I’m not aware of any other place where you can get great photos of both an abandoned lighthouse and shipwrecks. It’s one of the things that makes a trip to Klein Curacao much more than just about the beach and the snorkelling.
By now it was lunchtime and the sound of the dinner bell from the catamaran drew me back to the beach and the short swim to the catamaran.
I’ve been on many of these day trip cruises in the past, but I can’t recall one where the food was as good or plentiful as it was aboard the Blue Finn boat. Ribs, wings, stew, tons of veggies and salads all washed down with beer or wine which flowed aplenty.
After lunch there was an unexpected highlight. The snorkelling up to now had not been that great to be honest, but when the crew washed the dishes off the bow of the boat (without using any destructive detergent) it drew fish by the hundreds. Alison and I quickly put on our snorkel sets and dove into the middle of a fish feeding frenzy. There had to be at least thirty different species and then the sea turtles started to arrive. It was a Kodak moment which I tried to capture on my waterproof Canon Power Shot D30. I’m not the best underwater photographer (in fact closer to the worst), but I think this photo gives you an idea of what we in the midst of.
We stayed in the water for the entire time this spectacle went on, a good half an hour at least.
We still had an hour or so before it was time for the return voyage and I did something I’m not usually very good at – relaxing. Just sitting the shade of the palapa listening to an audiobook and contemplating how lucky I was to be in this tranquil haven with not a care in the world. Here’s my friend Don Harding’s version. You get the idea.
This is a view of Curaçao from Klein Curacao and all too soon we had to head back.
Leaving this little island I got one last look at the lighthouse and the stricken freighter.
Apparently the catamaran usually puts its sails up on the return trip, but today there was just a bit too much wind to do it safely so we just motored back. Everyone was in a great mood and Don struck up a conversation with the captain and got some very valuable tips on some of the better, but lesser known snorkelling sites on Curacao. I just enjoyed the beer and the company.
What a great day!
For another interesting day in the Caribbean check out this post from St. Lucia.